The General Services administration is downright spacey… it has three north stars

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The General Services Administration is spending nearly all of its efforts towards the idea of customer experience. That’s what Federal Acquisition Commissioner Tom Howder told the coalition for government procurement.  Well, what does that mean for contractors? Federal Drive with Tom Temin  turned to federal sales and marketing consultant Larry Allen for answers.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: So Larry, you heard this customer experience CX seems to be pretty much the word now. The byword at GSA. What does it all mean?

Larry Allen: Tom I think for contractors, it’s a question worth asking what it means for them. I know that contractors consider themselves to be customers of GSA  just as much as they consider GSA to be a partner through which they serve their mutual government customer. GSA, I’m not sure always looks at contractors as potential customers, but they are. There are companies that use the services that GSA provides to reach a government customer. So I would hope as GSA moves forward with this, that they would think about ways of looking to increase contractors and include them in to the customer experience. And indeed, Tom Howder, the Deputy Commissioner for Federal Acquisition Service, really did touch on that in his remarks. They want to make sure that it’s easier for business to do business with government. They want to attract contractors. And I think the big significant thing, because we’ve heard that general phrase before, Tom, “We want to attract new businesses to government.” Tom Howder and a couple of other GSA speakers took that a step further. The coalition conference saying, after they get the contract, we really want to help those companies get a contract award, and do business, actually get business, develop business over time, so that they just don’t have the license to fish. They actually catch some fish.

Tom Temin: Yeah. And over the years, though, isn’t it fair to say that GSA has, especially in the schedules program, done a lot of alteration, if you look at it, versus 20 or 25 years ago, the price reduction clause, the ease of getting on to the GSA schedules, the consolidation of the schedules took a lot of complication out. So is there anything more they can do at this point other than answer the phone on time and answer emails quicker and that kind of thing?

Larry Allen: Well, certainly I think that acquisition workforce training, Tom is always something that’s critically important to ensuring that the strategy put in place at the top of the agency gets implemented at all parts of the agency. If you talk to GSA schedule contractors today, that message isn’t always getting through. So I think one of the things that GSA needs to focus on and they know this is to ensure that the strategy that they have for ease of use of the schedules programs gets out to the line level people. One of the other things, though, that I’ll give the agency some kudos for in this area, you talked about rule, getting rid of some of the rules, consolidating the schedules. But one of the other things, Tom, that GSA has done is they’ve really significantly improved contractor training. It used to be that they would take slide decks from other people, repurpose them. And the last person that walked in the room was unlucky enough to be the one who had to do the training. Now GSA has much more purposeful training, it’s regular, it’s much more polished, and it’s free. So if you’re a contractor, even one that’s been on schedule for a little while, availing yourself of some of the free training, a lot of which is now focused on how to actually get that business. And what do you do once you get the business? How do you manage it? You know, those are significant new additions that are designed to make contractor’s lives better.

Tom Temin: So it would be incumbent on contractors to tell the GSA what it is that they can do to make the customer experience from the contractor standpoint better because that steady feedback over the decades has really helped GSA because over the long term, it does listen.

Larry Allen: As with many other parts of our life Tom, there’s no real benefit to suffering in silence. If you’ve got an issue, absolutely worth talking and making sure that people know about it, giving the agency a chance to work on it and address your issue.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners. And on that whole getting business when you have a contract through GSA brings up the topic of the EIS, the enterprise infrastructure services contract, which everyone has supposed to have converted to by now or they keep moving the deadline out. You’re saying that this telecom contract might be dead?

Larry Allen: Well, Tom, if you look at some of the major agencies that have yet to do serious conversion on this: large parts of the Department of Defense, Department Homeland Security and Justice. Those are three agencies that GSA just pushed out the transition deadline to till 2024. That tells me and it tells everybody else that look, it’s been five years since we’ve had the EIS contracts put in place, you need two more years. On top of that you need seven years to transition? Transition was something that customer agencies wanted to do. If they actually felt like they needed this contract, Tom, they would have done a lot of their transitioning by now. And a lot of that transitioning would have been something other than what we’ve seen today, which has been lift and shift. Sure. We’re now on EIS. But we’re on EIS with many of the same solutions and functionalities as we had on the old networks contract. The only thing that’s changed is the contract vehicle. So all that’s by way of saying, I think everybody, industry, GSA and customer agencies need to look long and hard at whether there needs to be another iteration of EIS or whether EIS should be the end of the line for catch all telecommunications contracts. They’re expensive for industry and government. They take a lot of infrastructure to manage. And agencies just don’t run out to take advantage of the new technologies and savings when the new contracts get put into place, just the opposite. Many of them have to be dragged kicking and screaming, to just lift and shift what they already have.

Tom Temin: And maybe the difference between now and the network’s era is the advent of cloud computing in which is the infrastructure of the agency itself, its own network, its own mainframe set up and all of this is less important and less dominant than it was now thanks to the use of clouds for so much essential and mission critical computing?

Larry Allen: Well, and I think that’s exactly right. And it’s also basically looking at how people work now in federal workforce, Tom, what has happened over the five years since EIS was put in place? Well, the pandemic happened. The result of that is Tom, that how people work and where people work have changed. People are working more at home, they are doing more on Zoom, or Microsoft Teams or one of the other virtual platforms that you can do over your computer, you don’t need a telecommunications infrastructure to do that. In fact, you and I are doing this interview on one of those platforms right now. Not using the phone for a lot of reasons. So that type of work has changed. The technology has changed. People have cell phones. But really EIS as it’s currently constructed, is not a major player in the cell phone world in the federal market. It handles some periphery, things related to cell phone use, but not the main type of stuff that you associate with having a cell phone. So as you say, there are other contracts for that. So the type of work is done is is changing where that work and how that work gets done is changing a large telecommunications contract that had at its core everybody having desks set on their desk. I don’t know that we need that anymore because not everybody’s  at their desk.

Tom Temin: Larry Allen is president of Allen Federal Business Partners.

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